Hurricane Michael becomes a Category 4 as Florida braces for monster storm

Hurricane Michael is expected to make landfall Wednesday along Florida's Panhandle

As Hurricane Michael continues to churn it's way toward the Florida Panhandle Tuesday (10/9) tens of thousands of people potentially in harm's way have been ordered to heed warnings of possible severe coastal flooding.

The storm is now a Category 3 storm packing winds of more than 120 miles per hour and is expected to grow even more potent before it makes landfall Wednesday, likely near Panama City Beach.

More than 20 million people are under a hurricane watch or warning across five states (Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina).

Gulf County officials issued a mandatory evacuation for all of Cape San Blas, all of Indian Pass area, Simmons Bayou, Highland View, and Windmark. At that strength, it would rank as the most powerful storm to strike the Panhandle in more than a decade. USA producers in the Gulf cut oil production by about 40 percent and natural gas output by 28 percent on Tuesday, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said.

In Panhandle counties, most state offices, schools and universities were closed for the rest of the week.

The last NHC report said the fast-moving storm was about 180 miles (325 km) from Panama City, Florida. Those who stayed emptied grocery store shelves of water and other supplies. Because he owns two businesses in the area, Givens, who lives inland, said he was not evacuating. Storm surge could reach a monstrous 12 feet in some areas - enough to "easily go over the roofs of some houses", he said.

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NHC Director Ken Graham said Michael represented a "textbook case" of a hurricane system growing stronger as it drew near shore, in contrast to Hurricane Florence, which struck North Carolina last month after weakening in a slow, halting approach.

Torrential downpours could produce "life-threatening flash flooding", the NHC said, from the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend region into portions of the Carolinas through Thursday.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Hurricane Michael was centered about 420 miles (675 kilometers) south of Panama City at 5 a.m. Tuesday.

On its current track, it would make landfall somewhere along a coastline that includes the cities and towns of Fort Walton Beach, Panama City Beach, Port St. Joe, St. Teresa and the wildlife reserves bordering Apalachee Bay. It would head off the Mid-Atlantic coast by Friday, the NHC said.

President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency for the entire state of Florida, freeing up federal assistance to supplement state and local disaster responses.

Florida has had more hurricanes in October than in any other month.

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